Sunday, 20 September 2020

Holiness of God - Snippets from Ezekiel

Last week we looked at the 'otherness' of God - the fact that He is beyond us, with the difference between God in the spiritual and us in the physical. This is related to the theme of the 'holiness' of God, which occurs in various ways through the writings of Ezekiel.

For example in 41:1 - 4 we have measurements regarding the inner sanctuary of the temple, which is asserted as a 'Most Holy Place'. In 42:13 - 14 describes a place where the priests can share in the offerings, which is a 'holy' area such that they have to change their clothes before leaving to more 'common' areas. Then 45:3 measures out a sacred district within which the 'Most Holy Place' sits. Also 48:12 gives measurements of whole chunks of land, with a special gift to the priests described as a 'a most holy portion'.

When we think of the holiness of God, we think of behaviour and morality. We can recognise that God's ways are not our ways - we mess up and fail. Our ways often lead to damage and decay (just think plastic pollution!), whereas God creates, then redeems and restores! All this accentuates that sense of gap between God and us: He is spiritual, we are physical, He is Holy, we are polluted and messed up. So how do we bridge the gap? Do we cleanse, and/or sacrifice? Is it possible, by special religious practices, to become holy or even 'most holy'?

If we look at world religions they typically have mechanisms that try to achieve this. Judaism in the older part of the Bible, along with primitive religions, had animal sacrifices and offerings. Hindus wash in the Ganges, Muslims endeavour to make the 5 prayers per day and so on. All these are considered necessary for holiness. All are rituals that then need repeating for a sense of holiness to be sustained.

Yet the Hebrew word used is 'Qodes' and is more than just moral purity - it implies relationship and a sense of being called out or set apart ready for a special purpose. Our brief summary of snippets in Ezekiel are therefore examples of places, things, people called to be separate for a purpose. Note also that holiness is something that is given by God as a gift. E.g. the land is a gift in chapter 48. These holy places (and things) are given as a connection point between God (and the heavenly realm of God) and earth. It will be good for us to remember that holiness is not something we simply strive for, but is given by God.

Another point to note: although the Old Testament Judaism had animal sacrifices like other primitive religious, there was a key difference. In Judaism they are not about appeasing gods, but are about devoting. For example the 'burnt offering' means totally given over to God.

Now in Ezekiel we see the vision eventually unfolds to the people Israel restored, gathered back from exile, along with the temple restored. The vision includes performing the offerings once again. Historically we know that this happened: the temple was rebuilt, and later grandly extended by King Herod. Sacrifices also re-commenced. Yet when Jesus saw it he talked of the temple being destroyed, and said 'bring down this temple and I will raise it again in 3 days'! What did he mean?

Remember that Jesus' life lived on earth was totally given over to God and His purposes. Jesus showed holiness thorough his life called out to be different and separate, living every step for God's purposes. Remember he said 'I have come to do the will of the Father'. That will continued all the way to the cross - in fact it became clear that the cross was fulfilling God's purposes. So we should understand that Jesus dying on the cross showed giving over to God in its fullest form - it really was the ultimate sacrifice.

God showed His approval of Jesus by raising him from the dead. This leads us to understand that the true or ultimate 'Most Holy Place' is in fact Jesus - the crucified and risen Jesus. It is in Him that heaven and earth meet! That means that the physical temple building was only ever just a temporary symbol or signpost ... the real thing is Jesus!

It goes further: when the risen Jesus met with the disciples he breathed on them the Holy Spirit (John 20) and commissioned them with words: 'if you forgive, they are forgiven'. That surely means also the disciples, with the Spirit of God, also become the place where forgiveness can be pronounced, in other words the place where heaven and earth meets!

So understand your status as a follower of Jesus, with your life in Christ - the Most Holy Place. Paul helps us understand with two phrases. He talks of us being a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6) and a living sacrifice (Romans 12). In other words yourself given over to the purposes of God, which makes you (filled with the Spirit) a living, breathing, walking temple - a place where heaven and earth meet. That means as you walk around: to the school gate, to work, to meet someone ... the person you meet comes into proximity of the holiness gifted to you by God: they come into a place of ministry.

So as Christians we don't do repeating rituals to appease God, nor to strive for holiness. No! We take part in communion as a reminder and refresh of what is already achieved, so that we can go on living our lives spiritually. The physical building for us is not necessary (though it has its uses!): each of us is a temple, a place of ministry, even in our scattered and diverse locations!

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